The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles #16: Fear and Driving in Los Angeles

August 27th, 2009 → 3 Comments

There are no two words more frightening to this carless Angelino than these: THE VALLEY.

Yes, the Valley, that elusive urban suburban expanse above the Getty Museum where families and other kind of proletariat live. Where eggs can be cooked on the sidewalk because temperatures soar to 300 degrees. Where pornography is birthed, edited, and sent around the world. Where the 101 North somehow becomes the 101 West (or is it the “101 East”– why is it so confusing?).

It’s the godforsaken geographic anomaly crisscrossed by so many freeways that for the last year has taunted me to buy a car and brave its streets under 2000 pound air-conditioned armor. The Valley is the boring ugly step-sister of Los Angeles proper and I still cannot navigate her after years of living here… certainly not by instinct and only with meticulous Mapquest directions that I dare not stray from so help me god.

All year, I was brave to resist getting a car as I’ve coaxed myself: “Kristina, don’t fear the Valley, for you will never have to go to the Valley last minute. What the hell do you need to get in the Valley?”

Yesterday, I had to conquer that San Fernando beast armed with only a bus pass. Specifically, the Sherman Oaks Galleria parking lot. Worst yet. I had to conquer it at 6am.

Why GOD did I have to be in the Valley at such a godforsaken hour?

Because I booked a national commercial! Finally, that elusive residual income that lures so many actors to Hollywood (and has evaded me for so long) comes at the right time!

Usually with any kind of on location shoot, you never know the call time or location until the last minute. It’s a lot like a rave. I got hints from the production guys at the fitting that we were shooting somewhere in Van Nuys in two days.

My alarms went off. EMERGENCY!! CODE VALLEY!! TRANSPORTATION EMERGENCY!! I could not afford to get lost or be late for this. I imagined myself getting off at the wrong bus stop in Glendale, not being able to tell North from South, only to get on another wrong line. Or waiting at some transfer stop in Burbank where the bus line had been unknowingly discontinued. Calling friends at 5am to help drive me over, waking them up, angering them, losing their friendship. Maybe I’d arrive at set 2 hours late, at which time my part was forfeited to the girlfriend of the key grip.

No! I had to secure transportation! And not the public kind!

It was time to follow the long anticipated action plan of what to do in what I call “Situation: The Valley.”

Step 1: Find a ride from someone headed there.

At the fitting in Hollywood, I tried to charm the question to the other actors working the spot: “Hi, my name is Kristina. What’s yours? So where do you live? Do you live near Silver Lake?”

Unfortunately, everyone lived on the Westside or Burbank. Or maybe, they decided that’s where they lived upon the desperate smile of a stranger. I knew their faces. The fear in their eyes of the prospect of spending time alone in a car with an actor they just met. My innocent request for a ride was definitely creeping them out.

In my car-owning days when I was on a set, I’d often run into carless actors. They were characteristically the most talkative ones to the point of creepy. Often the most overcompensating and annoying. They were always the ones with the million dollar ideas whether they were unwritten screenplays they were raising money for or pyramid schemes for water filters that they thrust unsolicited onto other actors. I often wondered if they talked themselves up so much so as to warm up potential rides they’d solicit.

I had become what I’ve loathed. Time for Step 2.

Step 2: Find a car to borrow

When I left the fitting, I frantically texted all the friends on my mental inventory of “to borrow” cars. First my friend Chay who often walks to work and leaves her car parked, then my cousin (because blood is thicker than water), then my friend Marcus who used to be a bus person until given this car, then Chay’s sister Bangbay who has loaned me her car while it’s been parked at work. If none of those panned out, I could start getting creative and ask new friends for their cars. I could also try to catch a ride, though like I said, who else would be going to the godforsaken Valley and as early as 6am?

I got two no’s from Chay then my cousin who both needed their cars. Marcus was a yes, but he lives all the way in Santa Monica which created the added challenge of the pick-up. I also don’t know his car. What if it breaks down? What if I can’t get it from him? I panicked and asked Bangbay for her car which was easier to pick up and that I knew wouldn’t break down on me having driven it before.

(Yes, I got snobby about a free car to borrow.)

Bangbay came to get me the night before the shoot. I took her back to her place in her Corolla. In a very Jack and the Beanstalk-esque exchange, I traded my bus pass for her car keys. She was a trooper for busing to work so I could drive to mine.

Score! I had wheels!

I got to set more than early. I’m glad to have arrived there by car, not bus and foot because there were a specific set of signs to follow off the freeway to find the crew. Had I tried to bus there, I would not only have had to leave at 3am (I’m not sure what buses even run in LA proper at 3am), but I might have been in the dark dragging myself across along the entire mile-long perimeter or the Sherman Oaks Galleria before I could spot the film crew.

I did have a car sorrow moment when I parked Bangbay’s car alongside all the other cars that belonged to the crew. Some of their cars were big, flashy, signature cars for signature personalities. The black Toyota Corolla I was driving was so practical, so modest. And it wasn’t even mine. I couldn’t help but remember my Harold, that big pink ego/eco-mobile and how sweet it was to park at the studios among the Hollywood types in him. How nice it was to get in and out of him like it was no big thing.

How sexy I was. But those days are gone as I attempt to rock it without the carbon emitting armor.

I checked in with the 2nd AD. I enjoyed my Non-Deductible Breakfast (set speak). Put on my costume, sat in the trailer. The manager of the pizza place we were shooting in came in the trailer and made conversation with me. He asked where I traveled from to get there. I said Silverlake. He said, “Where is Silverlake?” And I thought: “This guy lives in Sherman Oaks and does not know where Silverlake is? Who are these heathens here in the Valley!?”

I shot my scene, wrapped by noon. I headed to where Bangbay works in West LA to return her Toyota Corolla. I filled her tank. (Good Lord, gas is getting expensive again!! $27 to fill a 2/3 of a tank? I don’t miss that part of owning a car.) Since it was lunchtime, I took her for lunchtime tacos.

Total cost to conquer the Valley at 6am? $33. Not bad considering I will only need to brave The Valley once every six years. Plus I’d much rather give gas and food to a friend than to a rental company.

By the way, here are the other action steps of “Situation: The Valley” had the car borrowing not work out.

Step 3: Rent a car (but so last minute, the cost with insurance and gas could easily bring the rental to over $50 for the day).

Step 4: Suck it up and take the bus up. But leave 2 days earlier than it says to on metro.net.

Step 5: Take a cab or car service. Or pay ex-reality tv star to drive me.

And another BTW… To be fair, I do know actors without cars who are not crazy. Wyatt Cenac who now lives in New York and works on the Daily Show used to get around by bike. We did the CBS showcase together and he’d come in on two wheels, get rides, and he was so cool it was no big thing. My friend Blake works constantly, was totally sweet and helpful when my car exploded and told me how to get around without a car. We share our triumphs as actors living within the machine who don’t own big machines and also share our moments of Hollywood carless shame. And I also met a woman named Enci who writes about how to thrive as an actor without a car and she’s also given me a lot of ideas about how to survive carless. Her production company is Rebel without a Car Productions!

Category: hollywood wong, The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles

3 Responses to “The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles #16: Fear and Driving in Los Angeles”

  1. Wes says:

    You know Wyatt Cenac? Did you see his film MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY? I saw it here in Seattle and enjoyed it a lot. Also met the director – really nice guy.

  2. kristina wong says:

    Yeah, we were in this showcase together, but he kinda exploded into mega stardom after and well, I blog about carlessness. So if you ever mentioned my name to him, it might take him an hour to remember…

  3. Chris says:

    I have been reading you blog since I saw your feature on car free mondays… couple of thoughts:
    1. MTA inside the valley is great but you're right, tranportation to and from the valley sucks rocks.
    2. I would ditch the metro.net trip planner and use google maps. All the MTA data is on it now and you can just choose transit directions. It's great for routing at odd times with "unusual" routes

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